DeVos: Listening to Mom |

DeVos: Listening to Mom

Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

Two thousand years ago some adventurous Chinese chef was seeking out exotic flavors and enticing spices. He harvested crystals that he grew out of bat manure and gathered a little sulfur for color and a little charcoal to subdue the odor.

He looked up from his labors to see his despicable neighbor checking his mail. After he’d gone back inside, the chef thought to himself, “I could so blow up his mailbox if only I had a … a … well, if I had some, I’d call them fireworks!” So he took his piles of spices, which were actually the raw ingredients of gunpowder, along with a mortar and pestle out to his front porch where he blew himself completely off the pages of history.

Still, even after the invention of gunpowder, it took over 600 years to figure out how to shoot someone. Early pistols were simple brass tubes, closed on one end with a wooden handle. The open end was stuffed with gunpowder and a lead ball and pointed towards one’s foe while holding a candle under the barrel. Supposedly the intended victim just stood there with a puzzled look until the thing exploded, occasionally taking off the arm of the shooter in the process. Once in a while somebody would get winged with a lead slug. It didn’t start as an exact science.

Meanwhile, advances in fireworks consisted merely of bigger and bigger bangs, but then Marco Polo brought home some fireworks just as Italy was in the throes of the Renaissance. In their artisan hands, fireworks took on colors and aerial bursts but the displays were for royalty only, the hoi polloi weren’t invited.

But by the 1730s public fireworks displays were common throughout Europe and the British Isles, finding their way to the colonies where they were used to commemorate and entertain the crowds at public functions.

Few dates in America compare to July 4, 1776, which is not the date that the Declaration was signed; it was not signed until later in August, but July 4 was the date the document bore.

For decades after its signing, the Declaration was bitterly debated by the political parties of the time. Federalists thought the document was too French and anti-British, while Democratic-Republicans embraced the document as it stood. Unlike today the argument did not wind up in the Supreme Court.

Britain, still stewing over the loss of the colonies, took to impressing American seamen into British service, one of the many causes of the War of 1812 as England tried to exert claims on Canada and Maine. The Brits managed to burn down the Capitol, along with most of Washington, D.C., before being pushed back across the Atlantic a second time.

The War of 1812 inspired “The Star Spangled Banner” and renewed the pride in the American spirit. The Federalist Party fell apart and copies of the Declaration began to be published and circulated again with the date of July 4, 1776.

The Fourth of July was cemented into American heritage when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4 1826, exactly 50 years after the date was first affixed to the Declaration. In 1870 it was officially recognized as a national holiday.

So fast forward to Keith Moon, drummer for the rock band, the Who. Moon always travelled with several hundred cherry bombs and used them to blow up toilets everywhere the band stayed while on tour. Consequently the Who got thrown out of almost every hotel they ever stayed at. Eventually they were banned world-wide by every brand of Hilton, Sheraton and Holiday Inn, not to mention the entire city of Flint, Mich.

Just so you know how tomorrow will turn out if we hold to past averages, American displays will light the fuse on over 400,000 pounds of fireworks. Two hundred people will wind up in emergency rooms, 34 of them with bad hand burns from sparklers. Sadly, four people will extinguish their own fuses with illegal or homemade fireworks.

Another thing to remember tomorrow and throughout July is that fireworks terrify both wildlife and our domestic pets; they are a significant source of wildfires; and anything that explodes or leaves the ground is illegal.

Surely your mother taught you not to play with matches?

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